Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Synopsis courtesy of

Based on fascinating history, a never-before-told story from critically acclaimed Elizabeth Chadwick.  Royal wives and royal widows, Queen Adeliza and her stepdaughter Empress Matilda are the only two women to be titled "Lady of the English," a title that does not come cheap. Adeliza, widowed queen and peacemaker, is married to a warrior who supports Stephen, grandson of the Conqueror. Matilda, daughter of the last king and a fierce fighter, is determined to win her inheritance against all odds and despite all men, including Stephen. Both are women who, in their different ways, will stand and fight for what they know is right. But for Matilda, pride comes before a fall. And for Adeliza, even the deepest love is no proof against fate. 

 My Review

4 Stars  

In Lady of the English, author Elizabeth Chadwick transports readers to one of the most tumultuous periods in English history, the mid-twelfth century.   This is the story of Empress Matilda, named as heir to her father, England's King Henry I, yet who is denied her throne when her cousin Stephen seizes it upon Henry's death.  This action sparks a bitter and long-lasting civil war as Matilda fights to oust Stephen from the throne that by rights should be hers.   The novel is also the story of Queen Adeliza, widow of Henry I, who struggles to find her place after her husband's death and is ultimately rewarded by finding love and having a family of her own.   Her happiness, however, is tempered by her desire to show loyalty to her husband, a staunch ally of the King, while seeking to retain her relationship with her stepdaughter Matilda, who is battling the King for the throne.   Despite these challenges, Adeliza maintains the diplomacy and grace that made her such a well-liked queen.  

A strength of Chadwick's writing is her vivid descriptions that are rich in historical detail.  In Lady of the English Chadwick has once again crafted a novel with a strong sense of time and place.  While the historical detail is impressive, the greatest strength of this novel rests with Chadwick's characterizations, especially that of Empress Matilda.  Chadwick's Matilda is a strong and determined woman who isn't afraid of fighting for what is rightfully hers.   Nevertheless, Matilda is not a woman without faults and her failings made her, at times, her own worst enemy and are one of the reasons she never did win the throne from Stephen.   Chadwick's depiction of Empress Matilda is one of the best I've read.

Despite being over 500 pages in length, I did feel the novel could have been longer without bogging the story down.   While not necessary to the progression of the story, I would have liked to have read more from the perspective of Matilda's enemies in order to better understand why they denied her claim to the throne and supported a man who was clearly an ineffective monarch.   I also would have liked to have seen more of Robert of Gloucester, Matilda's illegitimate half-brother and one of her staunchest supporters.   However, even without with this additional detail the novel is still an entertaining and informative read. 

Overall, Lady of the English is another great novel from Elizabeth Chadwick, one fans of historical are sure to enjoy.  

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.